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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

San Marco: 1527-1740
Adrien WILLAERT (c.1490-1562) O magnum mysterium
Claudio MERULO (1533 – 1604) Salvator noster, dilectissimi; Hodie Spiritus Sanctus; Adoramus te
Andrea GABRIELI (c. 1510 – 1586) Magnificat; Maria stabat
Giovanni BASSANO (c.1558-1617) Hodie Christus natus est; Dic nobis, Maria
Gioseffo GUAMI (c.1540 - 1611) In die tribulationis
Baldassare DONATO (c.1525 - 1603) Hei mihi! Domine
Giovanni CROCE (c1557 - 1609) In spiritu humilitatis
Giovanni GABRIELI (c.1553/1556 – 1612) Canzon duodecimi toni; Hodie Christus natus est; In ecclesiis; Sonata octavi toni; Exultet jam angelica
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 – 1643) Missa da Capella "In illo tempore"; Gloria a 7 voci
Franceso CAVALLI (1602 - 1676) Alma redemptoris mater
Alessandro GRANDI (d.1630) Deus, qui nos in tantis
Antonio LOTTI (1667 - 1740) Crucifixus
Baldassare GALUPPI (1706 - 1785) Magnificat a 4
Gloriae Dei Cantores
Gloriae Dei Cantores Instrumental Ensemble
Gloriae Dei Cantores Brass Ensemble
Elizabeth C. Patterson (conductor)
Recorded 1993, Worcester, Massachusetts.
GLORIAE DEI CANTORES GDCD 014 [2CDs: 59.08+60.59]


As the main trading post between the East and West, Venice was a rich and prosperous city, guarded by a powerful fleet. Its citizens enjoyed political stability and a high standard of living with a corresponding ability to impress foreign dignitaries. This was reflected in the ceremonial aspects of public life in which all classes mixed and where the religious and the temporal co-existed. Processions, governed by protocol dating back to the fifteenth century, were held on important civil and religious occasions, usually beginning in the Piazza and proceeding into the Basilica of St. Mark, the private chapel of the Doges. One of the most important customs was that at least six silver trumpets should play at such events, ensuring the necessity of instrumental music to accompany all great celebrations. St. Mark’s had a tradition of formal music-making dating back to the 13th century, but the appointment of the Flemish musician Adrien Willaert as maestro di capella, significantly raised the profile of the musical establishment.

Andrea Gabrieli studied in Munich with Lassus (1532-1594) and worked there at the court of Duke Albrecht V. In 1566 he was appointed organist at St. Mark’s where he quickly became recognised as a significant composer, particularly of ceremonial music. Andrea Gabrieli died at the then extremely ripe age of 76.

Gioseffo Guami was a pupil of Adrien Willaert. Guami was a singer at St Mark’s from 1561 to 1568 and organist from 1588 to 1591. From 1568 to 1579 he was organist at the Munich court where he, too, came under the influence of Lassus. Baldassare Donato and Giovanni Croce both started out as singers in the choir and both ended up becoming maestro di capella. Donato's motets are more conservative, in the style of Palestrina. This recording includes Croce's late motet, 'Hei mihi! Domine' which, though essentially homophonic, uses antiphonal and massed choirs to great effect.

Giovanni Gabrieli almost certainly had lessons with his uncle Andrea. He also worked in Munich at the Court of Duke Albrecht and like his uncle, studied with Orlando di Lasso. Giovanni probably left Munich in 1579 on the death of Duke Albrecht. He deputised as organist at St. Mark’s in 1584 and in 1584 was appointed second organist and composer following the resignation of the previous incumbent, Claudio Merulo. In the same year he became organist at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a part-time appointment, retaining both positions until his death in 1612.

Giovanni Gabrieli’s time spent as a colleague of his uncle was short, as his uncle died a year after his appointment. The need for a successor to continue the grand style of composition must have led the authorities to offer Giovanni the position. He immediately began to edit and publish his uncle’s concerti, often written for divided choirs (cori spezzati) of voices and instruments, which greatly influenced his compositional style. But Giovanni’s genius was to fully realise the potential of this spatial technique and to carry it even further than his uncle. He was granted permission to hire freelance singers and players in order to enlarge the virtuoso ensemble which had been permanently established in 1567. Giovanni Gabrieli developed his multi-choral technique to its limits.

During this period, the head of the instrumental ensemble at St. Mark's from 1601-1617 was Giovanni Bassano. He was notable as a teacher and performer but also produced a number of poly-choral motets.

Giovanni Gabrieli was followed at St. Mark’s by Claudio Monteverdi, who ushered in a new era of music making. Monteverdi's 'Missa da Capella - In illo tempore' is a fascinating work, but is hardly typical of this composer's output, though the 7-voiced Gloria is in his later, concertato style. Alessandro Grandi was appointed vice-maestro under Monteverdi, though Grandi might actually have been a pupil of Andrea Gabrieli. Grandi and Monteverdi are reputed to have been in open rivalry and Monteverdi is supposed to have prevented Grandi from presenting large-scale works of his own. Grandi seems to have made a virtue of necessity and produced a ravishing string of solo motets and concerti spirituali.

Francesco Cavalli sang in the choir as a boy treble going on to become a tenor and organist. He was probably Monteverdi's pupil and went on to establish himself as an opera composer, only becoming maestro di capella in 1668. Unfortunately, not much of his sacred music has survived.

Antonio Lotti became a chorister in 1687 going on to become organist and finally maestro di capella. His well known 'Crucifixus', for 8 voices, was written during a period in Dresden working for Emperor August. With Baldassare Galuppi, who was a pupil of Lotti's, we come very firmly into the 18th century. Despite a highly successful career in opera he became maestro di capella in 1762.

This rich tapestry of composers has been well represented on this 2-disc set. It is enterprising of Gloriae Dei Cantores to provide us with a survey of all the major composers associated with St. Mark's from Willaert to Monteverdi. Not surprisingly, Giovanni Gabrieli gets the lion's share of the disc.

The choir are recorded a little close for my taste. You hear individual voices rather than a blended choral sound. Though the choir's sound would be fine for later pieces, they are not ideal in music of this period. The voices sing with slightly too much vibrato and the sense of line is not ideal. It sounds too much a 19th century sound and lacks the transparency necessary for this music. This sense of thickness increases when the instrumental ensemble comes into play. Very modern sounding, they do not at all attempt to emulate the sound world of 17th century Venice. Undoubtedly, the choir and instrumental ensemble make a thrilling sound in the set-pieces, like Gabrieli's 'In ecclesiis', but I am not sure that it is a sound that Gabrieli would have recognised. Modern brass instruments are very different from cornets and sackbuts, and balancing the modern instruments with a choir means that compromises must be made. No longer are the instruments acting as equals of the voices. For 'In Ecclesiis' the brass players are recorded in the distance, far less prominent than the choir and soloists, an unsatisfactory solution to the problem of balance with solo voices. But, on their own, the brass players give lively performances of two brass pieces.

Many good choirs have music from this period in their repertoire. The pieces are enjoyable to sing and form brilliant backdrops for later pieces. But that does not mean that the music is ideal for every choir to record. Gloriae Dei Cantores have had some success recording later music and I do not feel that their sound is ideal for these pieces. The sound world of Gabrieli is so very different from our own, with its small vocal ensembles, single voices to a part and instrumental players acting as equals to the voices. And then there is the issue of keys - the music of this period was written for a flexible group of singers with boy trebles on the top line. The music does not always lie satisfactorily for the average mixed voice choir. In a sense, the performances on the recording must be regarded as transcriptions in the same light as arranging a baroque piece for contemporary symphony orchestra. Viewed as such, these performances are creditable, but certainly not ideal.

This disc does give us the opportunity to hear together works by a number of different composers all associated with St. Mark's. The performances are not ideal but discs of this repertoire are not frequent. Personally, I would prefer to buy the Venetian Coronation disc by Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort. Though they are not as comprehensive in their range of composers as Gloriae Dei Cantores, they are far more successful at capturing the atmosphere of music making at St. Mark's.

Robert Hugill


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